A ti­tan in the world of the­atre

Daily Express - - LIVES REMEMBERED - Sir Peter Hall

BY THE time he reached his teens Peter Hall al­ready knew he wanted to be­come a the­atre di­rec­tor. But in the end he be­came so much more. As the man who founded the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany at Strat­ford and was di­rec­tor of the Na­tional The­atre for 15 years, Sir Peter was a theatri­cal colos­sus who dom­i­nated the act­ing world for more than 50 years.

He re­ceived mul­ti­ple awards, in­clud­ing two Tonys for The Home­com­ing in 1967 and Amadeus in 1981, a Laurence Olivier award in 1999 and a knight­hood in 1977. And he will be re­mem­bered as a cham­pion of pub­lic fund­ing for the arts.

Born in Bury St Ed­munds, Suf­folk, Peter Regi­nald Fred­er­ick Hall was the son of Regi­nald, a sta­tion­mas­ter and his wife Grace, who in­stilled in the young Peter the im­por­tance of “get­ting on” in life.

At the start of the Sec­ond World War the fam­ily moved to Cam­bridge where Sir Peter won a schol­ar­ship to Perse Gram­mar School be­fore car­ry­ing out Na­tional Ser­vice with the RAF. Af­ter­wards he read English at St Catharine’s Col­lege, Cam­bridge, but ad­mit­ted to feel­ing out of place “as a schol­ar­ship boy among the Old Eto­ni­ans”.

It was while he was at univer­sity that he made his di­rec­to­rial bow with a per­for­mance of Jean Anouilh’s Point Of De­par­ture, and by the time he had staged his last stu­dent play he’d al­ready been in­vited to make his pro­fes­sional de­but at the The­atre Royal, Wind­sor, in 1953.

But it was two years later, while work­ing at Lon­don’s Arts The­atre, that his ca­reer re­ally took off with the English-lan­guage pre­miere of Sa­muel Beck­ett’s Wait­ing For Godot. Al­though he ini­tially ad­mit­ted that he “didn’t have the fog­gi­est” what some of the play was about, his pro­duc­tion made him Bri­tish the­atre’s man of the mo­ment: Vogue and the BBC wanted to in­ter­view him, US play­wright Ten­nessee Wil­liams wanted him to di­rect his plays and of­fers of work flooded in.

Even­tu­ally, he set­tled on di­rect­ing the stage ver­sion of the mu­si­cal Gigi and promptly fell in love with the show’s star, French ac­tress Les­lie Caron. It was to be the start of a colour­ful and tur­bu­lent love life which saw him marry a fur­ther three times and pro­duce six chil­dren.

In 1960 he was in­vited to run the Shake­speare Me­mo­rial The­atre in Strat­ford-upon-Avon but it was Sir Peter’s vi­sion, am­bi­tion and tenac­ity which saw it grow into the com­pany it is to­day.

It was an ex­cit­ing time for the arts world but for Sir Peter the pres­sures soon be­gan to take their toll. He suf­fered an emo­tional and phys­i­cal break­down, saw his mar­riage to Caron col­lapse and em­barked on an af­fair with his as­sis­tant Jacky Tay­lor, who be­came wife No 2. Again, this mar­riage ended in di­vorce as did his third to opera singer Maria Ewing.

Af­ter eight years at the RSC, worka­holic Hall briefly turned his at­ten­tion to di­rect­ing opera be­fore tak­ing on the role of di­rec­tor of the Na­tional The­atre in 1973. Dur­ing his 15 years in charge he di­rected 33 pro­duc­tions and over­saw the Na­tional’s move to the South Bank.

He oc­ca­sion­ally ven­tured into film and tele­vi­sion, in­clud­ing di­rect­ing Chan­nel 4’s The Camomile Lawn. Even as he neared his 80th birth­day he re­mained as pas­sion­ate as ever about the stage and cam­paigned to get the Rose The­atre in Kingston upon Thames funded and built, cel­e­brat­ing its open­ing in 2008.

His last pro­duc­tion with the Na­tional was Twelfth Night in 2011, the same year he was di­ag­nosed with de­men­tia. He is sur­vived by his fourth wife Nicki and by chil­dren Christo­pher, Jennifer, Ed­ward, Lucy, Re­becca and Emma.

Pic­tures: REX, MICHAEL WAL­TER / PA, GETTY

SAVIOUR: Sir Peter re­built UK the­atre. Left, seen re­hears­ing with Sher­rill Milnes

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